Trees rising from the canvas to the sky.
- Michigan state parks have partnered with the Bob Ross artist's estate for its reforestation efforts.
- The trees were grown by prisoners in the correctional facilities' educational program.
- Hundreds of volunteers have planted them in state parks denoted with signs of Ross' likeness and famous tag lines.
An eclectic combination between a cultural icon and prisoner reforestation efforts has led to a commendable new initiative in Michigan. Since May of 2019, hundreds of volunteers have planted 1,000 "happy little tree" saplings across Michigan State Parks. Honoring the late painter Bob Ross, the original program was first known as "Prison Grow."
Ross came to prominence as the host of The Joy of Painting, an art program that aired on PBS from the early '80s to mid-'90s. He died a year after the program ended. He was known as the soft-spoken and calm painting guru, often comically anthropomorphizing his paintings as he went along.
His videos populate Youtube today and he's since become a cultural icon as people discover his soothing and generous demeanor. Ross' likeness and signature hairdo has been plastered over countless shirts, mugs, and his imprints are instantly recognizable.
Happy little trees
From the great beyond, Ross still teaches people how to paint "happy little trees— now, he'll also be the face of a project aimed at planting real ones. The new initiative stems from a partnership between Bob Ross Inc. and Michigan's Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Ross' organization has agreed to let the state use his likeness and taglines to promote the state's Prison Grow program in his honor.
Each year, inmates from three different Michigan correctional facilities assist in growing around 1,000 trees. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources' Parks and Recreation Division gathers volunteers to go out and plant these new trees.
The new trees are used to replace those in state parks that have become diseased or intentionally damaged. In 2019, 22 out of Michigan's 103 parks will receive new trees grown in correctional facilities. The program takes native seeds from the local region so that the replacement trees will be able to survive and grow healthy.
Prisoners part of the program consist of people who were successful in the prison's career and technical education program. Here they learn horticulture skills and how to care for and nurture growing trees.
This meshes well with the philosophy of Ross. The painter understood the healing force of nature imbued within his work. A large part of Ross' popularity stems from the contact joy people get from watching him teach and create.
Michelle Coss, coordinator for the DNR's Parks and Recreation division, explains to the magazine Roadtrippers how the whole partnership got started.
"I was thinking about trees leaving prisons and going to a campground and that they're happy and it came to me: 'happy little trees…' Well, wouldn't it be cool if we reached out to Bob Ross Inc. and asked if we could use that moniker for the program? So we did, and they loved it."
DNR's Michelle Coss standing beside new sign indicating the reforestation effort.
Image source: Michelle Coss / DNR
As part of the initiative, which originally launched on Arbor Day, Ross' likeness appears on the signage at the parks and on volunteer t-shirts. Coss says that over 500 people signed up to help them plant the trees.
The stewardship of the park is a noble endeavor. Volunteers gather seeds from native plants, remove invasive plant species, clean up overgrown areas and, of course, plant the new trees. These are essential functions of maintaining and managing the areas within state parks.
This happy forest can serve as an example to all of us. As an homage to Bob Ross, this reforestation effort will elicit real healing change. With collective effort, environmental mistakes can be remedied.
From the brushstrokes of his happy little canvas and the image of life he left behind, new arboreal life will flourish.
A new study investigates if pot smokers outperformed nonsmokers in creativity.
Does marijuana boost creativity, or are creative people drawn to marijuana more than others?
A new study published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition suggests the latter: The results showed that pot smokers (sober at the time) outperformed nonsmokers at one of the two tests researchers used to measure creativity, and that the difference in creativity is most likely due to personality traits rather than pot itself. The study worked like this:
Researchers used the Big 5 model of personality to measure the personality traits of 979 undergraduate students. They then asked the group to self-report their own levels of creativity, and also objectively measured creativity among the students using two separate tests.
Two kinds of creative thought processes were measured to assess participants' levels of creativity:
Divergent thinking — a thought process used to generate many possible solutions to a problem, like brainstorming. To measure divergent thinking, participants were asked to complete the Alternate Uses Test, in which they had one minute to generate as many uses for common objects as they could imagine.
Convergent thinking — a thought process that involves judging a finite number of solutions to arrive at one “correct" answer, like a multiple choice test. To measure convergent thinking, participants completed a Remote Associates Test, which “consists of three unrelated stimulus words, which are associated with a solution word." For instance, the solution word for “cottage," “Swiss," and “cake" would be “cheese."
The results showed that, while there was no significant difference between the two groups on the divergent thinking test, cannabis users outperformed non-users on the Remote Associates Test that measured convergent thinking.
What's causing stoners to excel in this dimension of creativity? It's mainly a personality trait called “openness to experience." The researchers suggested:
“While mainstream media has propagated the idea that cannabis expands the mind and enhances creativity, our results show that the link between cannabis and creativity is largely a spurious correlation driven by differences in personality (i.e., openness to experience) that are related to both cannabis use and augmented creativity."
As one of the dimensions in the Big 5 model of personality, openness to experience is characterized by active imagination (fantasy), aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity. People high in this trait are also more likely to be liberal, extraverted, and tolerant of diversity.
Ultimately, the results don't necessarily suggest that marijuana use has no effect on creativity.
“The answer isn't black and white," said Dr. Alice Weaver Flaherty, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor at Harvard Medical School who specializes in deep brain stimulation and the brain's relationship with creativity, to Artsy. “Marijuana is a stimulant. And most stimulants, in the short term anyway, boost output of all kinds."
Flaherty argues that the question of whether marijuana use boosts creativity largely depends on the personality of the artist.
“A very anxious creative person may get some benefit from cannabis. In calming them down, it could help their creativity," Flaherty said. “But for someone who's already in the zone, and who's not too anxious to work, it might push them into a place of being too laid back."
Pot in the Creative Process
Looking beyond the scientific literature and into firsthand accounts, many artists claim marijuana plays a key role in their creative process. Alanis Morisette said smoking pot was a great way to get “clarity" and new perspectives when writing songs. Steve Jobs claimed smoking pot made him feel “relaxed and creative." And comedian George Carlin deemed weed a “value-changing" drug that could open up “doors of perception," as Alexxa Gotthardt notes in her article for Artsy.
Gotthardt's article also features an interview with artist Gina Beavers, who proposed something that seems key in this debate about drugs and creativity: Getting high can sometimes be good for the idea-generation part of the creative process, not necessarily the execution of those ideas.
“If I smoke weed and then go to bed, I'll have mild hallucinatory effects as I'm drifting off to sleep and get creative ideas...A few times, I've been mulling over how to solve some issue and weed will give me ideas, but not always ones I go with. I have to wait and look at the solutions in the light of day."
Considering the plethora of mind-altering substances in the world — from Ayahuasca to Budweiser — should we think there's anything special about marijuana when it comes to creativity? Couldn't alcohol help artists be more creative, too?
Possibly. One hypothesis is that, because drugs can lower our inhibitions, they help to silence the self-editor that tends to harshly criticize what we create, allowing us to overcome writer's block or simply the fear of creation.
Jason White, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter who likes to compose songs while drinking a glass of bourbon on his front porch, summed it up like this:
“I'm drinking to stop the noise in my head so I can express what I'm feeling in my heart."
There's an interesting caveat to White's career: Although he was more of a whiskey drinker than a pot smoker, his biggest success in songwriting was influenced by marijuana and not alcohol, as Adam Wernick and Michael May wrote for PRI:
“Years ago, a friend left a marijuana bud on his coffee table. White wasn't a pot smoker, but he popped it into a corncob pipe, lit it up, and in forty minutes wrote a song called Red Ragtop. The song became a huge hit for country singer Tim McGraw."
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